Regardless of whether they win the Metropolitan Division, the Carolina Hurricanes will enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs in early May with legitimate aspirations of winning it all.
The New York Islanders know how that feels — and how much they miss that feeling.
The Hurricanes will look to remain in sole possession of first place in their division Sunday afternoon, when they visit the Islanders for the final time this season in Elmont, N.Y.
Both teams will be completing a back-to-back set after playing on the road Saturday.
The Hurricanes overcame a two-goal deficit in the final five minutes of the third period to edge the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in overtime in Newark, N.J.
The Islanders fell to the Buffalo Sabres, 5-3.
For Carolina, Brady Skjei scored with 4:36 left and Nino Niederreiter tied the game with 1:56 remaining before Seth Jarvis collected the game-winner 1:39 into overtime. The Hurricanes’ win coupled with the New York Rangers’ 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins allowed the Hurricanes (51-20-8, 110 points) to break a first-place tie with the Rangers (51-22-6, 108 points) in the Metropolitan.
Both teams have three games left, including a clash Tuesday night in Raleigh, N.C.
The Hurricanes are headed for the playoffs for the fourth straight year — the longest stretch for the franchise since the then-Hartford Whalers made it seven straight years from 1986 through 1992.
The Hurricanes haven’t been to the Stanley Cup Finals since winning their lone championship in team history in 2006.
“I think you come out at the start of the season and you say, ‘We want to be the best,'” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “So that’s still the goal.”
The Islanders expected to contend for the Stanley Cup after falling to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the semifinals in each of the last two years.
But New York has never been in the playoff race during a nightmarish campaign, during which the team endured an 11-game losing streak amid a COVID-19 outbreak last fall before mourning the deaths of franchise icons Clark Gillies, Jean Potvin and Mike Bossy over the last three months.
The Islanders (35-33-10, 80 points) have looked like a worn-down team during a four-game losing streak. New York hasn’t led in either of its last two defeats.
“I mean, you can imagine how we’re feeling,” said Islanders center Mathew Barzal, who scored New York’s first goal Saturday afternoon. “Back-to-back playoff runs (but now) out of the playoffs. It’s not easy, mentally, to come back.
“We’re not happy. We can’t be happy right now. It’s a bad mindset.”
–Field Level Media